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Travels in South America

Ups and downs on a Flat

BOLIVIA | Sunday, 9 November 2008 | Views [656]

On the 26th October we arrived in Uyuni.  A very small town in Bolivia but a popular destination for travellers because it's a jumping off point to do a tour of the salt flats and the south west corner of Bolivia.  

The tour stared at 10:30 a.m and just a few minutes later we were at our first stopping point.  A not very exciting 'train cemetry'. A load of rusty trains stuck in the desert.  We quickly moved onto the next place, a small town where they process the salt.  This stop was basically so that the locals could try and sell us things made from salt, but we did also get to see houses and furniture made from salt.

Next stop Isla Pescado.  After driving across the salt flats for about an hour, we came to an island absolutely full of cacti.  It was so strange to see them in the middle of this completely white area.  We walked around the island and then came back down to the car for lunch.  Our guide Omar had cooked us a really nice lunch of Llama and quinoa.

The car.  There were four other people on our tour.  A Belgian couple and a Dutch couple.  All of us had been told by the tour company that we would have a new car.  They even showed us a picture of the 4x4 as 'evidence'.  As soon as we started the trip we obviously saw that the car was not new.  When we got to the train cemetry we realised that not only was it not new, it was also older than all the other 4x4s giving people tours.  At the Isla Pescado we knew that all was not well when Omar had to call out a fuel truck and no one else did.  Hmmmm.


After stopping on the salt flats to take some stupid pictures where people seem tiny, we drove on, and on, and on, and on.  Several hours later we got to the salt hotel that we were stopping in for the night.  How they could possibly call it a hotel I don't know.  From the outside the place looked like a barn so we were all pleasantly surprised when we got inside.  The building was made from blocks of salt, the floor was covered in loose salt so it was like walking on sand and the furniture was made out of salt blocks too.  The place was nice and clean and Omar made some good food again.  But still, it wasn't a hotel, just another lie from the tour company.

The second day of the tour was kind of boring.  We drove all day from about 8:30 to 4:30 and there was little to see.  Of course the general scenery was amazing and we stopped at some lakes, saw some flamingoes, a couple of foxes and some kind of rodenty rabbit thing.  It was just a hell of a lot of driving.  The car did not like this.  Several points during the day the car ground to a halt and Omar had to jump out to fix it.  It was quite funny until you realise that you're in the middle of the bloody desert with a car that won't go anywhere.  Anyway, obviously Omar was a fairly good mechanic and he managed to get the car working every time.  Just about.  At the end of the day we came to Laguna Colorado. A huge red lake.  It was beautiful.  Really amazing and dotted with more flamingoes.  However, it was bloody cold and really, really windy so we didn't stop for long and made our way around the lake to the hostel.

Hostel number two was a joke.  We were expecting basic, but when we got there the water and electricity weren't working.  They fixed the water and got a generator going and Omar cooked us up some more food.  The sun went down and it got cold.  Unlike the salt hotel, this hostel did not keep a degree of warmth.  We all ended up eating dinner with gloves, scarfs, hats and coats on.  Lie number 3 - we were promised wine with dinner on the last night.  It did not materialise.  After dinner Omar disapeared (with wine?) and we had just said that we hoped the generator wouldn't pack up, when it did.  9 O'clock and time for bed.

Next morning.  We had agreed to leave at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5 in order to beat the crowds to the hot springs.  Unfortunately the Dutch couple (who had suggested beating the crowds) forgot how to use a clock and were dithering around until 5.  This whole time we were sat in the car waiting and Omar was on top of the roof freezing his arse off.  They must also have been slightly deaf as they didn't hear us beeping the car horn.  Eventually we left and about an hour later we arrived at some geysers.

Geysers look fairly impressive.  All that smoke and bubbling water.  They smell disgusting.  Next stop the hot springs.  About half an hour from the geysers is a natural hot spring that's been walled in to make a pool.  As it was only about 7 in the morning and still VERY cold, we were dubious about stripping down to swimming stuff and sitting in water, but it was brilliant.  The water was so hot it was burning my freezing toes.  Just like sitting in a bath.  Even getting out wasn't so bad because the water seemed to have warmed us to the bone.  We had pancakes for breakfast and then hit the road.

Soon we came to Laguna Verde.   It was the most beautiful lake we had ever seen.  It was a completely still day and the water didn't have a single ripple.  The lake was a green colour and the surrounding mountains were reflected perfectly.  Amazing.

Then we got in the car for the long drive back.  8 hours.

Verdict - a good tour.  The lady was a bit of a liar.  The second day was a bit boring.  The scenery was amazing.

Tags: salar de uyuni tour

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